Open access matters to more than academics, and here’s why

membership economy

This is a guest post from Alison Jones. Alison is a business and executive coach, content consultant and publisher. After a 23-year career in trade and scholarly publishing working with major publishers such as Oxford University Press and Macmillan, during which she pioneered digital publishing, she set up Alison Jones Business Services and the Practical Inspiration Publishing imprint in 2014.

Scholarly publishing – the making public of research across the various fields of science, social sciences and humanities – has been in a state of disruption for decades now. The classic outputs, little changed for centuries, have been the journal article and the monograph, and the traditional customer and curator of the content remains the university library, but the World Wide Web – originally designed for the communication of scholarly material, of course – disrupted the established print models, and publishers and academics alike have been exploring, exploiting and expanding the possibilities ever since.

But why should you as a non-academic pay any attention? Well, if you care about communicating your ideas, and the most brilliant minds in the world are focused on communicating their ideas in new and innovative ways, it’s probably worthwhile seeing what they are coming up with.

As someone who works across both sectors, I’m continually struck by the parallels between them. And there’s one key trend in scholarly communications that I believe every author, publisher, business owner and content creator should be aware of: open access.

OA, making research outputs freely available to all rather than requiring university libraries to purchase them from publishers, is probably the single biggest disruptive force in scholarly communication over the last few years. There are two varieties – green OA (in which academics post their own pre-publication papers to the open web, usually via their institution’s repository and sometimes subject to an embargo period) and gold OA, whereby the final published version is available immediately and free of charge on the publisher’s website in return for an APC, article processing charge.

Here are three key lessons I believe non-academics can take from the growth of OA:

1. Quality content remains the best route for reputation building

The currency of scholarly communication is impact. Most academics write and publish for reputation rather than remuneration (although there’s a strong link, as their published output correlates with their career advancement). OA has been taken up so enthusiastically because it removes the friction of purchase and – in theory at least – makes it more likely the work will be read by more people, and therefore have more impact on the world.

In this sense, academics are similar to the authors I work with, experts focused on getting out their message and building their brand in the process. Neither prioritise the amount of revenue raised through the sale of their content, both are ultimately engaged in changing the world for the better through sharing their ideas and knowledge.

But whatever the model – customer pays or OA – the quality and usefulness of the content remains the yardstick by which the reader judges the author.

2. The surprising sticking power of traditional publishing values

One reason that gold OA has become the dominant model is that the APC allows the continuation of sometimes invisible publisher functions – not just the management of peer review, the lifeblood of scholarly communication, but less obvious tasks such as metadata creation, copy-editing, typesetting, marketing, illustration processing, design, file conversion, rights management, etc, etc, etc. Academics can post their pre-publication paper in their institution’s repository and make it discoverable on the web just as authors can write a book and stick it up on Amazon, but in both cases expert publishing involvement makes it much more likely not only to be read in the first place but also to reflect well on the author.

3. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come

This is hard for both academics and authors alike to take. You have sweated blood in your research/writing, it contains the accumulated wisdom of years of hard-won experience, you have pulled multiple all-nighters to get the damn thing finished – why does the world appear indifferent now it’s published?

The truth is that publishing your content is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for changing the world: the next step is to make the world know and care about it. Or more specifically, the small subset of the world for which you are writing. Knowing exactly for whom you are writing and why is – as ever – the key to reaching those people and getting them excited about your message.
Academics go to conferences and present their research, they engage in discussion about others’ work, they choose the right journals and collaborate with the right people. I believe all authors (and their publishers) need to be thinking about how they’re supporting the content they’re producing – where are they speaking about it? How are they engaging in the broader conversation? Where are they making their content available, and who are they working with?

It’s always amazed me that most non-academic publishers and their authors tend to be uninterested in these seismic developments in scholarly publishing. Whether it’s business theory, practical expertise or scholarly research, our world is fuelled by ideas, and ideas are fuelled by juxtaposition, communication and collaboration.

This extract is adapted from a series of LinkedIn posts: Learning from the Learned.

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  1. I know how it feels when Real hard research work is not given any importance, but we have to understand that majority of population are less not that intelligent and they do not want to put stress on brain.
    They want things which is very easy to understand not complicated theories but there are are some quality raeders who value this graet work

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